London’s O2 Arena recently played host to its third NBA fixture as the Detroit Pistons turned out 87-102 losers to the New York Knicks on January 17th. This trend of American franchises playing one-off League fixtures in the United Kingdom was started by the NFL in 2007.
It’s no secret this was a major sports PR opportunity for the franchises involved with the NBA Commissioner David Stern stating, ' Historic franchises like the Knicks and Pistons...provide extraordinary opportunities to further the game's growth and development in the UK and throughout Europe.'
However, even after achieving a sell-out crowd, it is still being questioned whether the wider British public have been sold on Basketball as a leading spectator sport in the UK.
Drawing in the crowds
The New York Knicks are one of the top basketball teams in the world, boasting top names like Olympic Gold medallist Carmelo Anthony on their team sheet, providing the club with a great position from which to activate a strategic PR campaign for growing their supporter base in the UK.
In addition, following on from successful UK based fixtures in past, the NBA had already established strong media relations contacts to encourage publicity around the games in the UK and grow interest in the sport as a whole.
The media campaign around the event also involved a successful celebrity PR drive with guests on the night including Misha B, Alexandra Burke and a number of Premiership footballers including former ex-Arsenal professional Thierry Henry. World famous Knicks fanatic Spike Lee also proved a hit receiving much UK press exposure which proved an effective angle for positive coverage given Spike Lee’s strong affiliation with Arsenal FC, creating common ground amongst sports fans in the British public.
Is it all just a distraction?
Aside from the supposed benefits of increased interest and support from the UK thanks to PR exercises around the event, some are beginning to question whether the players considered the game an unwelcomed distraction to their intensive schedule. Pre-match, the Pistons camp raised light concerns over their schedule with Austin Daye publically stating before the game "It's cool to get out of the country and see something new. But it does wear on the body a little bit. Hopefully, we can recover.” The Pistons struggled to do so eventually losing the game by 15 points.
There have been mixed reviews about the event from the players and critics, for example as predicted the stadium was a sell-out however it was reported that the atmosphere wasn’t close to that of a generic NBA game with regular stretches of silence from the crowd. It’s no secret Basketball still remains a relatively niche sport within the UK and news of a £1.25m cut in their funding has not been encouraging.
About the author: This article was written by the staff of award-winning, London-based PR agency PHA Media. Basketball is just one kind of sports PR covered by the the company. Find out more @PHAMedia.